Nampa—Spotlight City

A Letter to Ourselves

By Amy Story

IDAHO magazine first featured Nampa as a Spotlight City in our September 2003 issue. More than two decades later, here’s a very personal take on the place.

At the end of a cozy Nampa cul-de-sac, on a snowy day good for staying indoors, I sit to write a story of living in a town I encountered nearly forty years ago. For weeks I’d thought over how to convey so many experiences in one story and I’d decided to write a letter, perhaps a love letter, or something like it—a missive to the city that has held me for so long. At the kitchen table, holding a pen over multiple handwritten notes, I ponder how to start.

The letter has to be about unrequited love, because I can’t be sure how much the beloved has noticed my existence. Then I realize that in a sense, I’ll be writing to myself, because I am Nampa. Even more, we are Nampa. Father, mother, sister, brother, friend, lover. We all saw, heard, witnessed. It’s our story to tell to ourselves and to others. So, let Nampa tell it to me. With this in mind, I begin.

Dear Nampa resident, 

We first laid eyes on you as a passenger in a rather unattractive orange van pulling into the driveway of a home on 7th Avenue South. We understood you were destined for Oakley, California, but there was some glitch, and you wound up here.

We knew that the driver was a caseworker, and as you nervously made your way up to the door of the Gifford residence, we heard him mention you were too wild for your actual parents, and this was your new foster home. He said you were unmanageable, but your look said you felt misunderstood. 

Your foster mother opened the door and stepped onto the stoop. Unsure, you gazed shyly into her eyes, and then she took you in her arms. “I don’t know what happened to you, or where you’ve been, but none of that matters,” she said. “You’re mine now.” 

That was your welcome into the family, and into your Nampa. 

We watched as you gained true acceptance, maybe for the first time in your young life. You pedaled a bicycle down Lonestar to the convenience store on Canyon Street by Nampa High, where you donned an orange smock and worked hard to earn money for a car and to get you through college the next year. We saw you become friends with school kids who came to the store on their lunch hour.

You kept a careful eye on sticky fingers but grinned when the regulars called you, “Amore.” You saw your first Nampa parade out the windows of that store. And we heard your conversations about the fragrance in the air at times. No, it was not burning peanut butter. It was the sugar factory. 

The Giffords took you everywhere: to a little amphitheater at Lakeview Park where their son performed in an outdoor play, to the busy Karcher Mall for a fruit drink treat, to nearby orchards for apricot picking. And to what would become a place that continuously drew you: the man-made Lake Lowell. 

Soon, you drove a midnight blue ’71 Pinto back to the lake, stared over the water, and told yourself that someday you’d live out here. Not long afterwards, you took the Giffords’ daughter Mona to sit on a boat dock in the sunshine for conversations that cemented a lifelong friendship. 

One of the last places your new family took you was Mercy Medical Center, where you suffered the loss of someone close. They walked you down the hall as you blinked numbly at chapel doors near the exit. Much later, when you returned to that hospital for a Toastmaster’s event, you met Mary Novotny, who became a good friend.

The hospital took one and gave one, as hospitals do. You also revisited the tiny chapel to pray and write heartfelt journal entries. It became a haven until the building was torn down in the name of progress. 

When the need to be fostered ended, your family made sure you knew that you were welcome indefinitely, and that they considered you their own. 

When you left for Boise State, we knew you had no intention to return to Nampa, other than for a visit. After marriage, when you were the mother of a young son, you lived about ten miles away in Meridian but came back to us for employment as a cake decorator at the now-gone Paul’s Market on 11th Avenue.

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Amity Dog Park in Nampa. CI Fraser.
The bar stool turned into a shrine for Thomas.
Bungalows in Nampa, circa 1920. Water Archives.
Downtown, 2011. Visitor 7.
Erika and her dad. Amy Story.
The family at Christmas. Courtesy Amy Story.
Catch from an irrigation canal fish trap, circa 1915. Water Archives.
Erika and Amy at Lake Lowell. Courtesy of Amy Story.
Dam being built at Lake Lowell, circa 1907. Water Archives.
Nampa's train depot. Glen and Ken.


It took a while for you to understand the different culture on that side of town, but you were friendly and locals were friendly to you. Every day, an elderly widower named Gene stopped by the complimentary coffee area next to your plexiglass workbench. When he learned you were unaware of author Louis L’Amour, Gene gave you a shoebox full of L’Amour’s books.

Respect for that writer would become so strong among your sons that one day you would have a grandson named Telemachus, “Tel” for short, middle name Sackett, after Tell Sackett, one of L’Amour’s main characters. 

We know you enjoyed working at the bakery with the kindly Mary Jo, whose daughter Ronda, the deli manager, was famous for homemade recipes. Employees of Woodgrain Millwork and Harris Seed Company up the road clamored for her cooking. Ronda would say, “Know what I mean?” at the end of her sentences, and Mary Jo would reply, “I know what you mean.”

Owner Paul Zatica visited often for coffee at the booth near your workstation, where he chatted and had his own habits of speech. “You’ve got to be a thinker,” he’d say, and add with a wink, “not a stinker!” 

Many of the clientele did not have much money, but some nevertheless brought in gifts for the employees, such as smoked meat or handmade flowered hairclips, and they brought their children for a free cookie and to say hello to Miss Amy. The courage of some of these customers both warmed and broke your heart during their struggles with poverty and addiction.

It was a rough and a beautiful side of our Nampa. You continued to live elsewhere, but when foster sister Mona suggested that you return here, saying it had always been a place of healing for you, you came back with three small children, ages eight, five, three, and no husband. 

We watched you work multiple jobs, decorating cakes for supermarkets along 12th Avenue, where you secured a home. One supermarket allowed flex hours, and after late-night shifts we saw you nervously look around the parking lots, hoping to make it safely home to children left with a babysitter. 

It wasn’t ideal to be away from the kids, so you opened your home as a daycare and welcomed many souls through your doors, which enlarged your circle. Hoping for relaxation with your children, you drove to your lake one August, wondering why no cars were in the parking lot. You learned something new: any time beyond July could bring a green-pea soup of algae on the water that made it unswimmable. 

We saw you often exhausted and sometimes sad. One day, you looked out your kitchen window onto the adjacent cornfield, which made you crave the fresh sweetcorn around the corner at Henny Penny Produce that a houseful of children kept you from getting. Minutes later, your friend Linda Castigneto showed up with two bags of sweetcorn. She had been inspired to stop and buy corn, although she had no idea who it was for. She thought about it, and decided it was for you. 

On an unseasonably warm January day, you took your kids to Lakeview Park, where a newspaper photographer captured your son Jared going down the slide, his sister photobombing the shot as she peeked out behind him. They were on the front page. 

Pam and Laurie, who were siblings with several children, interrupted the strain of your single motherhood by inviting you for dollar movies at the downtown Pix Theatre, where the children munched popcorn and everyone enjoyed the night out. You sometimes drove a Cadillac borrowed from your dad to the city fountain, where many a hot summer day was spent with your kids, whose faces that glistened in the sunshine were caught by your camera. 

Then the kids’ father asked to return to the family and simultaneously requested a move to the countryside. You found and secured land by your beloved Lake Lowell. You located a house to be moved onto the property and became the general contractor, supervising the long project of putting the old place on a new foundation, doing construction downstairs, and renovation upstairs. 

During breaks, you discovered Wilson Ponds off Powerline Road. This became a good place to walk and attempt to fish. One triumphant day, as dubious oldtimers watched, you pulled several trout from the water. Unfortunately, they also witnessed you hooking your hand, throwing in the towel, and going home.

But your hand was fine, and you laughed all the way back to the Fern Street apartment your family had rented while the home was being rebuilt. 

The Lakeshore Drive project took almost a year and we know it was one of the proudest things you’ve ever done, barring motherhood. After more than a decade of dreaming, you got your home by the lake. For six years, you woke to geese honking, watched sunsets with deer in your pasture, learned along with your family how to irrigate alfalfa.

You built a fort, fire pit, volleyball court, waterfall, pond, garden, ATV track, horseshoe pit, installed a park-sized swingset, raised Australian shepherds, multiple cats, chickens, roosters, ducks, turkeys, and the energetic kids. 

Summers meant days at Lake Lowell, where the kids perfected swimming while you read books, wrote in journals, watched your children play. Sunday afternoons you rode ATVs along ditchbanks, slept on your trampoline, watched stars, shared laughs and stories by the fire pit.

On summer days, your sons Jared and Taylor paddled a canoe around the lake with you and their sister as passengers. Later, ten-year-old Jared flew by on his dirt bike, saying, “Eat my dust.” By now, you knew the Lakeshore Drive curves so well, it seemed your cars could drive themselves home.

In 2005, when all the kids were old enough for school, you got your Realtor’s license. Someone coerced you into advertising big. Your name and phone number appeared on a 12th Avenue sign alongside your face: airbrushed, edited, unnatural, larger than life, and extremely cringy. For several months, we saw you that way.

One year you discovered the Wilson Creek Pathway that snaked behind multiple neighborhoods through town and along Wilson Creek. It became part of your life. You and your children walked it the day after you all left your precious country home and moved back to town, with divorce impending. 

We heard your footsteps crunch on pavement, we saw your wary smile that revealed the comforting thought, “After everything, we are still us. We’re going to be all right.” 

For years afterward, you still drove out to the lake when a child needed to talk. You’d say, “There’s nothing a drive around the lake won’t cure.” 

In 2011, you began writing for a local business magazine and met guitar store owner Thomas C. Duncan. He invited everyone to sit in his store, have a beverage, and become friends. For the next twelve years, Thomas would be a running thread, dubbing himself your brother and checking in regularly via text.

But your life pace was running double-fast, and when Thomas moved his business downtown, you rarely made time to stop, offering only a wave when you met your sons for lunch next door to his business. When you set up a table for your amateur art debut at Nampa’s early Fourth Fridays, Thomas was there, helping with the sound booth. 

Downtown, you wandered over to the Nampa Train Depot museum, took a free tour, and sat with a friend in the caboose being renovated by history enthusiast Eriks Garsvo, who offered tales of this train town. Another day, you and sister Melissa spent hours going through our streets and random buildings, exploring, trying to guess which ones might be haunted. We suppose in one way or another, they all are. You wondered about the underground pathways you’d been told about, and the tavern near the depot that was fabled to have a speakeasy back room. 

You walked through Longbranch Station with its sunken open basement in the center, where a few different restaurants once were. Downtown took on even extra meaning when you had a date there at a taco joint with Wild River Bill, which started a whirlwind of adventures.

We remember when you decided to become more involved with the community and were named to the local paper’s editorial board. No judgment here, but this probably was not your thing as a self-employed rebel thinker. Nampa can be a rebel in our own right, at times.

You didn’t want to endorse a particular candidate during an election year and never officially agreed. You were again the problem child when you declared that the abandoned Macy’s space at the end of the Karcher Mall would make a terrific ready-made new library, parking and all, as compared to more taxes with a new building and parking garage. You were told the focus needed to stay downtown. 

Yet we watched as you climbed to the second floor of the brand new library for the first time and gazed onto the new fountain square below. We heard you say, “This is where I’m going to write my book,” just in time for a librarian to apologetically ask you to move out of your perfect seat, because you were sitting in the teen area. And yes, we all know you wrote that editorial about the most picturesque seat in the house being wasted on the teens. 

Much later, the focus on our downtown paid off, as it became hard to find parking on most weekdays in the once-deserted area, and the “Third Thursdays” were well attended. We other Nampans still gloat over that one.

One Memorial Day you were introduced to Kohlerlawn Cemetery, where brother-in-law Lloyd played bagpipes for a ceremony. You’d been unaware of the place, tucked away on a road that you’d seldom used. The roads within the cemetery had names like “Fickel” and “Hisom.”

Eventually, Yvette Fickel became one of your best friends. As for Hisom, another day you visited Celebration Park near Melba, fascinated by the story of William “Doc” Hisom, who lived by the Snake River in a cabin off the land into his nineties. Hisom was buried there at Kohlerlawn. In 2013, your foster dad, Leo Gifford, joined him. 

You learned of other historical figures, among them Sam “Pappy” Swayne of the Swayne Auditorium at Northwest Nazarene University, where your son Taylor sang in choir concerts and onstage as the lead in Bye, Bye Birdie. Swayne was an obstetrician who delivered many of our Nampa children. His second wife Cleo helped institute Cleo’s Nature Trail in Melba [see “Cleo’s Trail,” IDAHO magazine, February 2013]. 

All three of your children joined Nampa Youth Golf, conducted mainly at Centennial Golf Course, and summer after summer you and your sister, ever the enthusiastic aunt, rented golf carts and followed your children around as they golfed in the tournament. The program enabled your children to be mentored by professional golfers and community leaders, such as police officers and the mayor. 

Your daughter Erika, only five-foot-two, practiced jumping for more than a year by leaping up to hit the top of an archway in your home. When she made the winning shot in the Skyview High School gym at double overtime in district volleyball, you screamed so hard on the bleachers beside Geri Gropp and Josh Andrus that they thought you might pass out. 

All these years, your “brother” Thomas had been as constant as Nampa. He taught himself photography and became a professional who won many awards. He texted that he had fallen in love with a woman, but you hadn’t seen him for a while. One restless Sunday, you walked into a place, saw him, and he said what he always said.

“Sister! I get to see my sister today! I’m so happy right now!” Which was followed by his usual, “Hey, do you know how important you are to me?” 

He pulled a custom-made wedding band from his pocket and talked about his beloved. After about twenty minutes, you excused yourself to sit with a table of women you knew, but felt guilty about it. On the way out, you gave him a brief hug. Later that summer, you stubbed your bare sandaled toe on a construction sign on the sidewalk, looked up, and there was Thomas with a guitar case, perhaps coming out of a restaurant where he played music.

He was not only a photographer but a musician, conductor, shop owner, author, philosopher, and guitar teacher. You weren’t sure if he had seen you but you had no time to talk, and you ducked away. It would be your last glimpse of him. 

Not long after that, Thomas died by his own hand in the white van he called “Vanna.” You found yourself back at Kohlerlawn to say goodbye, surrounded by people you’d met through Thomas C. Duncan. Post-mortem, he went on to win yet another Idaho Cowboy Rodeo Association Photographer of the Year Award. 

At one of his favorite downtown haunts, owners Heather and Ryan painted Thomas’s usual barstool gold and put his initials on it, surrounded by photos of him, buckles, and other paraphernalia. The stool sits upside down now at the far end of the bar on top of the counter, permanently retired by those who knew and loved him. 

A week later your foster mom, Katherine Gifford, succumbed to her many health challenges and was buried at Kohlerlawn next to your foster dad, just across the way from Thomas.

And now you sit, at your table with your pen in the little breakfast nook at the house near the dog park, where you ran your late pet Gracie and met many friends, wondering what to say about nearly forty years of memories. 

We remember when you wrote for the business magazine, you seemed very gung ho about your Nampa. Yet you were surprised that not all your children shared that enthusiasm. Two of the three said they could take or leave the place where they’d grown up, and even suggested you move somewhere warmer, like Arizona or Florida, now that you were, as they said, older. 

We saw you consider it, before you decided that as long as you had grandchildren and someone you loved here, you wouldn’t budge. 

At the taco restaurant downtown on the one-year anniversary of your first date with Wild River Bill, you two held hands as you walked through the Nampa Farmers Market at Lloyd Square. You celebrated New Year’s Eve at Thomas’s favorite bar, and saluted the upside-down stool in the corner, and felt gratitude for Nampa friends of the past, present, and future. 

We know that Namb or Nampa is Shoshoni for “footprint,” named because the Shoshones of this region stuffed their moccasins during cold weather with sagebrush, which made their footprints larger than usual. 

Dear Nampa resident, have we not made an impression larger than usual on your heart? With what we have seen of you over so many years, so many changes, the relationships and friendships and experiences, how is it that you think we have never even noticed you are there? How could you not have made a larger than usual-sized impression on us, in what has long been your hometown? 

Stay. Live some more. Make many more memories. Let us gloat a little more about that downtown thing. If we can tell a story about just one of you, imagine how we feel about all 119,803 of you. 

With love, 


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Amy Story

About Amy Story

Amy Story is a food and adventure writer, artist, and art instructor. She makes her way through the state looking for good recipes and new friends, often found simultaneously.

One Response to Nampa—Spotlight City

  1. Roy Cossairt - Reply


    What a fun way to make an informative and detailed story!

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